The Electric Commentary

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Smith and Althouse v. Leiter

There is quite an argument going on at the sites of the UW Law Professors today. Brian Leiter is a Professor of Philosophy and runs the Philosophy and Law Center at the University of Texas, and he posted this commentary on Rathergate. Basically, he thinks that it is a non-story especially when compared to Michelle Malkin's stupid book defending internment during World War II. Gordon Smith points out that Malkin's book is not worth covering because it is so far outside the mainstream. No one has been paying attention to it:

With respect to the publication of Malkin's book, Brian claims that this is an "actual issue" because ...? Not clear why. As far as I can tell, public perception of the internment is at least as settled, perhaps even more settled, than public perception of George Bush's service record. And the conventional wisdom about the internment -- that it was a racist and regrettable policy -- seems to be right. Moreover, Eric Muller provides a compelling case against Malkin's account, thus lessening the already narrow space for controversy. Finally, Malkin does not have the same standing in the public eye as Rather, and as far as I can tell, Malkin's book has attracted very little attention from the public at large, certainly far less than any broadcast of 60 Minutes. In short, far from being an "actual issue," the publication of Malkin's book looks like a non-issue.

Leiter responded in the comments section as did I. Here is what I wrote, fisk style:


1. That CBS used a bad justification for a true proposition doesn't change the important fact, which is that the proposition is true. So you and I manifestly do not agree about what is trivial and irrelevant.

Not a Socratic method user, are we Brian?

You know, I introduce false evidence into court all of the time, but since my underlying point is always true and well known by the Court, they let it go. And it doesn't hurt my credibility at all either. There are 2 stories here. Obviously you think that "Bush is a draft dodger" is relevant. Fair enough. And you don't think that "CBS used forged documents, probably knowingly, to bolster a point that most people knew anyway, and this kills their credibility." is not a story. That makes you a hack.

2. "Know-nothing journalist" is not an ad hominem. An ad hominem is an argument of the form, "What X says is false, because of who X is."

I don't care for MM. I think she is engaging in the time-honored tradition of capitalizing on shock for profit. But you do not seem to grasp the concept of the word "nothing." The phrase "Know-nothing" indicates a total lack of knowledge on any subject. It is an ad hominem, as your example nicely points out, because you claim that MM possesses no knowledge without support (your example of her error is specific to one instance and would not justify a label of "know-nothing), and use that characterization to undermine her (admittedly incorrect) point. Language matters my friend.

3. That CBS News did a story on Bush's draft dodge does not make CBS partisan.

No, lying to make the point makes them partisan. Relying on Bill Burkett as a source without corroboration makes them more partisan. If Burkett was in concert with the Kerry campaign and CBS failed to check this out or was complicit (not a sure thing, but worth investigating) then they are very partisan indeed.

4. My point, as indicated by the title of my posting, is that the self-important pretense of many bloggers to be radical forces for the truth is silly, and that there is, as Professor Muller noted, a "double standard" here: a trivial issue gets a huge amount of attention, a serious issue where one might, like Professor Muller, make a real contribution, gets very little.

The serious issue is in the eye of the beholder, and Prof. Smith makes a compelling case, as MM is largely ignored by everyone and Dan Rather is not, that the serious issue is in fact being covered. You see, professors do not decide what is or is not important, everyone does. MM's views are controversial. So are the views of the KKK. After all, racism is an important issue. Should we constantly cover how wrong KKK members are? How their views don't stand up to any notion of fairness or science or morality? Should we do this at the expense of all other subjects? Of course not, because they are idiots and no one cares about them. The issue they care about has long since been settled for most people, just like internment, which is why wasting time covering MM is not nearly so important as covering Rathergate.

Incidentally, I object to your harsh treatment of straw men, as you have torched at least 5 or 6 since this discussion started. Please, leave the straw men alone, lest you find yourself being defended by Malkin.

Ann Althouse administers a blogoshpheric spanking here.

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